Plant Spotlight: Elderberry
With her gentle touch, sweet intoxicating fragrance and delicious fruit she can liven the spirit and heal what is ailing you. Give her life and she will give you everything she can… But shorten her life, and she will curse you for the rest of yours.
Within the past several years we have become all too familiar with elderflower liqueur and cordials and the sweet elderberry syrup used for coughs and colds. This beautiful plants popularity has skyrocketed and rightfully so. She’s a showy little tree with fragrant white flowers that lure you with their intoxicating scent. These flowers give way to deep purple berries that even the birds and the bees cannot resist. She’s resilient and oh so useful. And as useful as she is, her folklore and history runs deep and heads warnings of her abuse and destruction.
Folklore and History
The elder tree’s usefulness does not end with her fruit and flowers. Musical instruments have been made of her branches by hollowing out the pithy core to make hollow pipes. They have also been used to blow into for kindled fire to coax the flames.
A magical and enchanted tree, the elder is steeped in fairy and goddess mythology. It is believed the best time to encounter fairies is while under and elder tree on midsummer’s eve when the fairies would pass by. But do not sleep under her or one could be inflicted with unexplained disorders or transport you to the underworld not being able to return.
She is said is to be very protective, especially when self-seeded near a home, keeping evil spirits from entering the home. But do not dare cut her down. It is believed she is guarded and should she be cut down or burned you shall be cursed and encounter much misfortune. A burned elder is believed to raise the devil and dare to cook food over elder wood would make the food not fit to eat. The tree is also never to be touched after dark.
It is believed that a witch can turn herself int an elder tree and her wood can then be used to make powerful wands. In Ireland, witches were thought to ride elder sticks, not the common broomstick. Her steep mythology makes her so mysterious and enchanting.
So powerful and encompassing is the elder tree that it is well-known as the ‘medicine chest of the country people.’ Protective against influenza, it can reduce fevers, increase immune response to viruses, reduce inflammation, improve vision and heart health and balance blood sugar levels. She has been used for hundreds of years for afflictions such as Whooping Cough, warts, toothaches and a variety of other illnesses and colds.
The flowers or berries can be brewed into teas and the berries are traditionally made into syrups although can also be found in tinctures. Wine, jams, cordials, champagne and fritters have all enjoyed the likes of the elder tree.
How We Use Elderberry
Elder berries are sweet and allow us to add a depth of sweetness and round out the edges of bitters that may otherwise a little too powerful in flavor. This beautiful berry not only adds a bit of immune boosting power – but also allows us to provide a bit of sweetness to our products without adding sugar. The flavor comes through the most in our Morning Wood Bitters.